Conversations with strangers

Of all my habits, my tendency to strike up conversation with total strangers is the one that my teens find most embarrassing. It is greeted with much eyeball rolling, groaning and then “Why do you always have to talk to people?”

Perhaps it was because I was brought up in a pub where you got to talk to strangers all day long, I don’t know, but I love chatting and have no plans to drop the habit. This past few days, I have talked to more people than ever and each has shared a painful story.

There was the 19-year-old whose mother is dying of brain cancer, the 34-year-old epileptic who is on the verge of homelessness and this morning, a woman who almost died from heart and kidney failure eight-years-ago.

The latter told me that I had a lovely smile, before assuring me “I am not the other way.”

“I don’t care if you are,” I said. “I take my compliments wherever I can get them.”

Over coffee, this woman and I talked about young people and their addiction to social media. “They are always looking at a screen, never doing this,” she said.

It’s so true and it pains me. Last night we had a family meal in the pub and four of my family stared at their screens as we waited for our food. “Can we put the phones down and have a conversation?” I said. You’d have thought I’d just announced that there was a bomb in my bag.

We did manage some semblance of a conversation, but it didn’t take long before my son said “You ask too many questions” and they were all back, scrolling through their Instafeeds like helpless addicts. I’m doing my best, I really am, but I fear for them. Will they ever experience the joy of a spontaneous two-way conversation with another person? Because really, that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it?

Can you imagine being alone on this planet with nothing but your iPhone for company? I can’t think of anything worse.

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